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Fields v. Board of Education of City of Chicago

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

September 15, 2017

GLORIA D. FIELDS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO and CHAD P. WEIDEN, PRINCIPAL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          REBECCA R. PALLMEYER United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Gloria Fields was a teacher at Edgebrook Elementary School in Chicago from 2002 to 2016. In 2013, Defendant Chad Weiden became principal at Edgebrook. Weiden gave Plaintiff several negative reviews regarding her lesson plans and her performance in the classroom, as well as suggestions for improvement, which Plaintiff implemented sporadically. Beginning in 2014, Weiden put Plaintiff on several “performance improvement plans, ” and eventually sent her formal notices that she was in danger of being terminated. After these notices, Weiden and Plaintiff met with a mediator and Plaintiff was not disciplined. Plaintiff went on medical leave, and, after several months on leave, retired as a teacher. She now brings this lawsuit alleging that Defendants Weiden and the Chicago Board of Education discriminated against her based on her age and race, and retaliated against her for filing an employment discrimination claim with the EEOC and this instant lawsuit. Additionally, Plaintiff brings a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against Defendant Weiden. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff began working at Edgebrook Elementary School in 2002. (Dep. of Gloria Fields, Ex. B to Defs.' Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts [81-1 at p. 8] (“Fields Dep.”) at 32:10-14.) By the time Defendant Weiden became principal of Edgebrook in 2013, Plaintiff had been teaching seventh and eighth grade English/Language Arts for one year. (Defs.' Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Material Facts [81] (“Defs.' SOF”) at ¶¶ 6, 9.) During his first year as principal, Defendant Weiden began requiring teachers to submit weekly lessons plans to him-a requirement that not been imposed by Weiden's predecessors. (Decl. of Chad Weiden, Ex. A to Defs.' SOF [81-1 at p. 1] at ¶ 6; Defs.' SOF ¶ 11.)[1] Weiden and the assistant principal, Mary Clancy, later began giving feedback on the teachers' lesson plans, identifying strengths and making suggestions for improvement. (Defs.' SOF ¶¶ 7, 13.) The stated goal was to bring the instructor's lesson plans in line with educational standards. (Id. at ¶ 14.)[2] Much of the feedback provided to Plaintiff described her lesson plans as overly long and scripted from textbooks. (Id. at ¶ 15.)

         Another portion of Weiden's duties was to conduct weekly “pop-in” observations of teachers in their classrooms. (Id. at ¶ 17.) During his observations of Plaintiff's classroom, Weiden observed that Plaintiff's instruction was disconnected from her lesson plans; that the students were unengaged, unchallenged, and copying directly from their textbooks; and that they did not seem to understand the directions, expectations, or purpose of the lessons. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-21.) Weiden also received complaints from parents and students concerned about Plaintiff's ineffective communications regarding assignments and classroom issues. (Id. at ¶ 28.) Weiden attempted to work with Plaintiff to improve her lessons, but Plaintiff only sporadically implemented Weiden's suggestions. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-23.) Additionally, Weiden assigned the resident principal, [3] Tammy Vance, to be Plaintiff's instructional coach and to assist her with lesson planning and student engagement. (Id. at ¶ 8, 25.) For her part, Plaintiff believed Vance to be unqualified and refused to work with her. (Fields Dep. 219:19-220:3.) When Weiden offered to assist and support her himself, Plaintiff refused him as well. (Id. at 220:4-8.)

         I. Plaintiff's REACH Evaluation

         Beginning in the in the 2013-14 school year, the Chicago Public Schools started using the “Recognizing Educators Advancing Chicago's Students” (“REACH”) performance evaluation system. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 32.) Under the REACH system, teachers are observed at least four times over two years, presumably by school administrators (Weiden, Clancy, and Vance all observed Plaintiff) who assess their their professionalism, their planning, their establishment of a safe classroom environment, and execution of instruction. (Id. at ¶ 34, 36-37.) These assessments are given quantitative ratings, which the REACH formula combines with other data, such as student performance, to compute a total score. (Id.) These scores then translate into one of four ratings: “unsatisfactory, ” “developing, ” “proficient, ” and “excellent.” (Evaluation Summary Report, Ex. 1 to Suppl. Decl. of Chad Weiden, Ex. B to Defs.' Local Rule 56.1 Resp. to Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts [90-1 at p. 8].) Plaintiff's rating for 2013-2015 was “developing, ” although her score was close to the cutoff for “proficient.”[4] (Id.)

         II. Performance Improvement Plans (“PIPs”)

         In February 2014, Edgebrook Elementary hosted an informational meeting for parents of rising seventh graders. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 39.) Plaintiff claims that this meeting was not mandatory, but admits that Weiden and the administration “would have wanted” her and the other seventh grade teachers to attend. (Fields Dep. 77:1-16.) Despite being at school that day, Plaintiff did not attend the meeting. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 40.) Plaintiff did not notify Weiden or other administrators that she would not attend. (Id. at ¶ 41.) The next day, Weiden and Clancy met with Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶¶ 42-43.) After ensuring Plaintiff was feeling healthy, Weiden told her that he was disappointed that she provided no notice of her absence. (Id. at ¶ 44.) Weiden also informed Plaintiff that many parents had expressed concern about her absence. (Id. at ¶ 45.)

         Plaintiff also failed to attend a mandatory professional development session in November 2014, again giving no advance notice of her absence. (Id. at ¶¶ 46-47.) In spring 2015, Plaintiff was given the task of completing and submitting field trip request forms for the eighth-grade graduation. (Id. at ¶ 48.) She did not submit these forms by the required deadline, and requested that another staff member complete them. (Id. at ¶ 49.) Plaintiff ultimately submitted the forms after numerous e-mails and requests reminding her (the parties do not say from whom). (Id. at ¶ 50.) In September 2015, Plaintiff failed to attend a “principal-directed preparation period” (the court does not know what such an event entails). (Id. at ¶ 52.)

         Between March 6, 2014, and November 22, 2015, Weiden sent Plaintiff five “pre-meeting notices, ” which an administrator sends to a teacher to schedule a meeting about his or her conduct. (Aff. of Gloria Fields, Ex. 1 to Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. [91-1] (“Fields Aff.”) at ¶¶ 24-26.) Based on the above performance issues, Weiden drafted and issued three performance improvement plans (“PIPs”), on dates not set forth in the record. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 58-60.) The purpose of PIPs is to identify a teacher's behavioral issues and give him or her time to correct the identified behavior. (Id. at ¶ 54-55.) CPS employees did not face punitive discipline until three PIPs fail to correct the same behavioral issue. (Id.)

         After Plaintiff received her third PIP for insubordination, the Chicago Teachers Union requested a “mediation/arbitration” hearing on her behalf. The hearing was conducted on January 13, 2016. (Id. at ¶ 60-61; Fields Aff. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff contends that the Defendant Board of Education wanted Plaintiff to “voluntar[ily] separat[e]” from CPS as part of its opening position. (Fields Aff. ¶ 28.) The parties dispute what occurred at the meeting, specifically, what the mediator said about the merits of the “charges” against Plaintiff. Plaintiff claims that “only one of the five charges against her was warranted”; Defendants deny this, but do not offer their version of events. (Defs.' Local Rule 56.1 Resp. to Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts [99] at ¶ 14.) At the meeting, the mediator asked if Weiden would object to Plaintiff's not receiving any disciplinary action. (Defs.' SOF at ¶ 62.) Weiden had no objections, and Plaintiff was not disciplined. (Id. at ¶¶ 63-64.) Throughout Weiden's time at Edgebrook, the only discipline Plaintiff claims to have received from Weiden were the five pre-meeting notices. (See Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' SOF ¶ 29.)

         After the mediation, Plaintiff went on a leave of absence pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act. (Fields Aff. ¶ 32.) Plaintiff claims that the pre-meeting notices and mediation “greatly traumatized” her, so she sought treatment from a therapist and psychologist. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32.) Plaintiff claims she was diagnosed with “situational anxiety” as a result of Defendant Weiden's conduct, and her therapist recommended that she not return to work with Weiden. (Id. at ¶ 33.) Plaintiff retired from her position at Edgebrook Elementary School in May 2016. (Defs.' SOF ¶ 31.)

         Plaintiff submitted a claim of discrimination to the EEOC in April 2015-well before the mediation hearing, her leave of absence, and her retirement. (Fields Aff. ¶ 19.) The record does not reflect what became of this charge. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on May 26, 2015, and alleges age and race discrimination[5] and retaliation by both Defendants, and intentional infliction of emotional distress ...


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